Bahía Lomas (Lomas Bay) is located in the eastern mouth of the Straits of Magellan, northern coast of the Tierra del Fuego Island, Municipality of Primavera, within the Region of Magallanes and Antártica Chilena. The area is a tidal plain, with a wide range of tidal variation that exceeds 7 kilometers per day (measured from the line at the maximum height reached by the rising tide to the sea). This bay also contains a large area of muddy plains, both continuous and channeled (Morrison & Ross 1989), beyond which large sandy areas predominate. The linear distance from one end of the bay to the other is around 69 kilometers.
During the summer season (December to March), low temperatures (between 6º -12º C), wind speed exceeding 80-90 km/h, scarce precipitation, and abrupt weather changes characterizes Bahía Lomas. During the winter season (June to August), weather conditions dramatically change, temperature falls under -1º C and stronger winds are common.
Bahía Lomas hosts almost 50% of the Red Knot (Calidris canutus rufa) population; the area is the most critical wintering ground for this species in South America (Morrison & Ross 1989; Morrison et al. 2004; Niles et al. 2008). Similarly, is the second most important site for Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica), a migratory Nearctic shorebird; 10,000–12,0000 birds have been recorded during the winter season (Morrison & Ross 1989; Morrison et al. 2004; Niles et al. 2008).
Additionally, this bay is also an important wintering ground for Calidris fuscicollis and Charadrius falklandicus (Matus, Blank & Espoz, in prep.). Adding up the population densities for these two species plus those recorded for Haematopus leucopodus (around 4,000 individuals), C. canutus and L. haemastica, the area hosts over 20,000 shorebirds per year.
It is also worth mentioning that stranding of cetaceans is common in the area. Among the species that have been massively beached are Globicephala melaeana (Venegas 1982) and Pseudorca crassidens (Koen et al. 1999).
Conservation and Ecology
Bahía Lomas is a tidal plain formed by a large muddy area, both continuous and channeled (Morrison & Ross 1989), beyond which large sandy areas predominate.
Espoz et al. (2008) reported that the most common invertebrates in the foraging area for Calidris canutus rufa are the clam Darina solenoides and two species of polychaete, Eteone sculpta and Aricidaea sp. Minor percentages are shown by an unidentified amphipod species and other polychaete, Scolecolepides uncinatus. This last species constitutes the first record of both the genus and the species for Chile (Tapia 2008).
Similarly and probably due to the high productivity of the area and its physical characteristics, the wetland shows an important diversity of birds, both resident and migratory, among them: Calidris fuscicollis (White-rumped Sandpiper), C. bairdii (Baird's Sandpiper), C. alba (Sanderling), Charadrius modestus (Rufous-chested Plover), Numenius phaeopus (Whimbrel), Haematopus leucopodus (Magellanic Oystercatcher), H. palliatus (American Oystercatcher), Larus dominicanus (Kelp Gull), and C. falklandicus (Two-banded Plover) (Morrison et al. 2004, Niles et al. 2008, Matus, Blank & Espoz, in prep).
The major threat to the area is hydrocarbon pollution (oil) that may be caused by 1) nautical accidents (Bahía Lomas is located in the Strait of Magellan eastern mouth, an area historically characterized by high maritime flow) and 2) oil extraction accidents. The National Oil Company (Empresa Nacional del Petróleo, ENAP), extracts, transports, and stores oil in the area next to Bahía Lomas. ENAP is an important and good partner in the bay’s conservation.
Geographically, Bahía Lomas is relatively isolated and currently there is not a direct disturbance (or pressure) to the shorebird populations caused by human activities (i.e., massive tourism). However, ENAP operates in the area or in its proximity, which may represent a source of potential disturbance.
During the last few years, numerous scientific research initiatives and projects have been carried out in the area focused on different ecological and conservation issues. Following there is a summary of the research developed in Bahía Lomas:
Bird-banding activities were initiated in 2002. The program, leaded by L. Niles (currently at Conserve Wildlife Foundation), focused in the Calidris canutus rufa population. In this case, the main associated project to bird banding in Bahía Lomas corresponds to:
New Jersey Division of Endangered and Nongame Species Special Program that focused studies on the migration route of Calidris canutus.
An ecological monitoring program was initiated in 2003, leaded by C. Espoz (Universidad Santo Tomás). The following projects and research thesis have been carried out within this framework:
(2003-2004) Characterization of the inter-tidal community of sandy beaches in Bahía Lomas (Tierra del Fuego, Chile), with particular emphasis in the trophic relation among macro invertebrates and migratory shorebirds (Project Nº1-03-15)
(2004-2008) Inter-tidal community patterns and their relation with the presence or absence of migratory shorebirds in Bahía Lomas (Tierra del Fuego, Chile) (Project Nº5-05-01)
Davis N. (2004) Ecological characterization of the tidal plain of Bahía Lomas (Tierra del Fuego, Chile). Thesis for opting for the Biology degree with mention in Natural Resources and Environment, Faculty of Biological Sciences. Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.
Ponce A. (2005) Trophic ecology of Calidris canutus (Birds: Scolopacidae) in Bahía Lomas, Tierra del Fuego, Chile. Thesis for opting for the professional degree of Veterinarian M.D., Universidad Santo Tomás, Santiago.
Tapia M. (2008) Taxonomy of polychaetes in Bahía Lomas (Tierra del Fuego, Chile). Thesis for opting for the professional degree of Veterinarian M.D., Universidad Santo Tomás, Santiago.
Urrejola S. (2008) Ecological implications of the availability, prey quality and foraging behavior for Calidris canutus (Charadriiformes: Scolopacidae) in Bahía Lomas (Tierra del Fuego, Chile). Thesis for opting for the professional degree of Veterinarian, M.D., Universidad Santo Tomás, Santiago.
González G. (2008) Temporary variation patterns in prey abundance for Calidris canutus (Charadriiformes: Scolopacidae) in Bahía Lomas (Tierra del Fuego, Chile). Thesis for opting for the professional degree of Veterinarian, M.D., Universidad Santo Tomás, Santiago.
Post-graduate thesis that have considered Bahía Lomas among the studied sites:
Aparicio A. (2002) Habitat quality in sandy beaches of central south Chile for migratory shorebirds: analysis of their importance as stopover sites. Thesis for opting for the degree of Doctor in Sciences. Valdivia, Chile, Universidad Austral, Faculty of Sciences. 130 pp.
Other Projects that have included Bahía Lomas among their study areas:
Matus & Blank (2000) mentioned the project “Importance of Bahía Lomas in the Strait of Magellan as wintering ground for migratory shorebirds from the Northern Hemisphere”, whose main researcher was Claudio Venegas from the Universidad de Magallanes.
Project currently in implementation: “Establishing the basis for the conservation of Nearctic migratory shorebirds: habitat selection, diet, energy acquisition and environmental stress in the Southern Cone” (2007-2010). This project is funded by the BBVA Bank, whose main researcher is M. Castro (Centro de Investigación en Ecosistemas de la Patagonia), and includes Bahía Lomas among the sampling sites.
A process aimed at the building of a good governance system for the site is currently in development, and includes: 1) establishment of a Management Fostering Committee with the active participation of key stakeholders and direct interested parties, 2) a fund of US$ 30,000 raised for preparing the area’s Management Plan during 2009, and 3) the recent official nomination of Bahía Lomas as an Hemispheric Importance Site of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN). All of these elements are fundamental for achieving the area’s effective conservation in the short term.
Click on each thumbnail to see a bigger picture.
Satellite images courtesy of L. Niles, created by Rick Lathrop from Grant F. Walton Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis, Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA.
The National Oil Company (Empresa Nacional del Petróleo - ENAP) carries out diverse operations, both maritime and terrestrial, in the Bahía Lomas area. Two oil platforms belonging to the Offshore Program (named Terramar 1 y Ostión 1-2), currently non-operational, are located in the marine area next to the Ramsar Site.
Additionally, two operational offshore platforms are located in the marine area next to the Ramsar Site, specifically in the eastern mouth of the Strait of Magellan. Also, in the site’s terrestrial surroundings are several facilities such as ducts, storing facilities and compressors.
Tierra del Fuego Bird Observatory
The Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ and the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences obtained funding for building a new bird observatory, Tierra del Fuego Bird Observatory, (TDFBO) in the Strait of Magellan, adjacent to Bahía Lomas.
TDFBO was originally aimed at creating international awareness on the importance of Bahía Lomas as a wintering ground for the Red Knot rufa subspecies, which is gravely imperiled. More recently the scope of the Center has been broadened to include other migratory species such as the Hudsonian Godwit, as well as endemic species such as the Magellanic Plover, among others. In addition to bird watching, the place will serve to show the diverse marine life that characterizes the Strait of Magellan. Following the model of European bird observatories, it will be devoted to three main objectives: (1) reception and education center for one-day visitors, (2) base station for one-day natural history tours, and (3) base station for researchers that study wildlife and flora of the region.
Additionally, the observatory may be used as an operational center for environmental contingencies that may take place in the area, such as oil spills.
Regional Director, CONAMA
Magallanes and Antarctica Regions
Professional, Natural Resources Department, CONAMA
Researcher, Center for Research in Environmental Sciences
Science Department, University of Santo Tomás
Communications Chief, ENAP Magallanes